SHAFAQNA – A simple Google search reveals that Muslim leaders and organizations across the globe have overwhelmingly condemned ISIS. Brushing aside threats and attacks, Calgary-based Imam Soharwardy led a constellation of Canadian Muslim religious leaders to excommunicate adherents of ISIS.
According to some sources, hundreds of Muslim Imams have already been killed for standing up against ISIS. Other Imams are working around the clock to wean vulnerable Muslim youth from the indoctrination of online ISIS recruiters. However, on various online forums the question remains, “Where are the moderate Muslim voices?”
On closer inspection, online commenters are not concerned about the umpteen condemnations by Muslim leaders but by the efficacy of such efforts. Such commenters feel that if terrorists were an insignificant minority within the world’s 1.6-billion Muslims, then groups like ISIS would already have been destroyed. Eschewing economic and political factors, they blame “Islam” for the stranglehold of terrorism in the Muslim world. The fact that groups like ISIS quote Islamic texts in support of their heinous deeds only confirms people’s fears. In response, it is not clear if the efforts, especially of the Ahmadiyyah Muslim community, who have bravely organized “Have Dinner with a Muslim family,” are making a difference. After all, some question whether the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, itself persecuted for having unorthodox Muslim beliefs, can speak for all Muslims.
Online comments are quite telling, as people are free to speak their minds without the discipline of having to be politically correct. Recently, one commenter expressed, “legitimate fear that the world’s fastest growing religion, funded by trillions of oil dollars” would use our tolerance “to force upon my children a way of life that treats women as chattel, intolerance of gays and of other religions.” The commenter admits that such views are based on fear despite having Muslim co-workers. This commenter is not alone in having such viewpoints. My own friend expressed that it is difficult for him to have a favourable impression of Islam despite the fact that he has known me for several years. Thus, while efforts like those of the Ahmadiyya community are necessary, they may not be sufficient to quash Islamophobia.
Anti-Muslim sentiments are part of a vicious cycle of hate, in which Western ideologues stoke Islamophobia by alluding to the persecution of women, religious and sexual minorities in Muslim countries and where Muslim political extremists fuel hatred of the West by alluding to the disdain of human life in Muslim countries by Western regimes through arms sales, support of dictatorial regimes and invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Where some Western bloggers and news pundits exploit news items of angry Muslim mobs lynching vulnerable minorities for blasphemy, Muslim extremists exploit stories of U.S. soldiers killing innocent civilians for sport. Instead of using such unfortunate events as vehicles to show that hatred does not discriminate and that humanity must come together to end oppression, they exploit these incidents to further their own agendas and hence add to the vicious cycle of hate.
Such a cycle of hate cannot be broken by one-day acts of giving roses to the general public, a one day protest with a handful of people, or a single day open house at a mosque. What is required is for various agents in society to have merciless introspection and radical inclusion.
Western critics of Islam will have to look within to ask whether they wish to promote positive change or simply perpetuate a narrative of fear and complaints. They have the power to affect positive change by acknowledging the efforts of a whole array of Muslim activists who are painstakingly working towards highlighting the plight of women, religious and sexual minorities in Muslim countries. Where activists like Jibran Nasir in Pakistan speak out at great risk to their lives, those like Waleed Abulkhair in Saudi are prisoners of conscience. In the West, groups like Universalist Muslims, Muslims for Progressive Values and British Muslims for Secular Democracyamongst others continue to promote religiously plural, gender equal and LGBTQ affirming spaces. They also support Muslim human rights activists struggling for universal human rights, including LGBTQ rights and the rights of religious minorities, in the Muslim world. Western critics can play their role in supporting such voices for positive change.
Likewise, conservative Sunni Muslims will have to look within to understand that they can’t condemn ISIS for its barbarian methods and perpetuate a similar rhetoric on apostasy, disbelief and polytheism. If they wish to quell the fear of Islam within the general public then they have to show that the Sharia is not about punishments, subjugation of women, religious minorities and the LGBT but about upholding human dignity and justice. The best way this can be achieved is through spaces that affirm religious pluralism and the shared authority of women and which include the LGBTQ and Muslims with differing interpretive ideologies, guided by the core principles of compassion, human dignity and justice. This means an end to the callous practice oftakfir (excommunication) of Ahmadi Muslims, joining hands with Shii Muslims and the wresting away of authority from neo-conservative preachers, who only seek to cause fitnah (discord) through their homophobic and religiously supremacist viewpoints. While, homophobia, sexism and sectarianism are not exclusive to Muslims, at this point in our history, Muslims must break free of them. The survival of our faith depends on it.
A cycle of hate is broken when one party takes the initiative of taking the higher road. In this regard, lessons can be drawn from the Ahmadi Muslim community, who despite being immensely persecuted in Pakistan, always respond with patience and perseverance. Western critics have the choice to take the uphill road by resisting the negativity that emerges from generalizing and stereotyping and by emphasizing a narrative of inclusion instead of exclusion. Conservative Muslims too have a choice of ensuring that human dignity always has infinite precedence in the interpretation of ancient texts. In this regard, an Urdu poet eloquently stated:
dard-e-dil ke waaste paida kiya insaan ko
warna taa’at ke liye kuch kam na thay karro-biyan
Humans were created to show empathy
For angels were enough for worship
By Junaid Jahangir